People who have recently arrived in a country will experience a period of adjustment to the culture and environment.  This will affect the individual in many different ways. It is usually referred to as Culture Shock.  

At first, they may experience the “Honeymoon Stage”, where everything is new and exciting, and people are enthusiastic and energetic. After this, follows the Crisis Phase. This is where the person becomes increasingly aware of the differences between the culture of their old home and their new culture.  

Their “culture shock” may increase when they have difficulties with a new language, experience prejudice etc. They may feel confused, anxious, angry, homesick or disappointed.  Examples of things that may affect this stage’s severity include –

  1. Having to use a different language.
  2. Not being clear on how to make friends.
  3. Not being sure how to deal with authority figures.
  4. Not understanding how people develop relationships in the new culture.
  5. Not being understood when expressing themselves in their usual way .
  6. Finding the food and eating customs different.
  7. Finding differences in the work/school/education system different.

Experiencing prejudice 

The Adjustment/Recovery Stage is where the person begins to resolve the conflicts of the earlier stages and learn more about the culture, they are now living in. Later, follows the Adaptation Stage where the person comes to appreciate and accept the differences between the new and old culture and is more realistic about both. 

Culture shock is the interaction of affect (emotional) responses, behavioural responses (what people do), and cognitive (thought) responses.

The affective component – can be experienced as a “buzzing confusion… anxiety, disorientation, suspicion, bewilderment, perplexity and an intense desire to be elsewhere”.  These responses are associated with feelings of being overwhelmed, and may arise in individuals who do not have, or feel they do not have, the social, family, or personal resources to cope effectively with the new situation. Traditional counselling interventions that assist in the development of effective coping skills can be useful in dealing with these symptoms.

The behavioural component – can be experienced as confusion about how to deal with people and situations in the new culture, unwillingness to initiate or maintain relationships with others, easily giving or taking offence, difficulty in the workplace, underachieving, anxiety, low self-esteem, and difficulty in achieving goals. Intervention methods generally focus on “acquiring relevant basic social skills through behavioural culture training, mentoring and learning about the historical, philosophical and socio-political foundations of the host society.”

The cognitive component – can be experienced as inflexibility, unwillingness to change, judgementalism, abandonment of or even hostility to the mother culture or conversely, an inflexible, stricter adherence to the mother culture. These responses arise from internal anxiety that is strongest when the values of the new culture conflict with the values of the mother culture. When the established ‘truths’ and ‘certainties’ by which an individual has lived are either rejected by the new society or not valued within it, the individual’s belief system comes under threat. Hence, the traumatised individual either retreats into his/her own culture, becoming increasingly hostile or unreceptive to the surrounding culture, or rejects the mother culture, effectively cutting him or herself off from traditional social, cultural and often, family support systems.

While the majority of people and families seem to adapt without trauma to their new cultural milieu, some experience culture shock, a form of trauma that can be alleviated with sensitive counselling. It is important, however, not to confuse cultural difference and variation of values, behaviours and responses to crises with culture shock, which is merely one form of crisis that may be experienced. (Ward, Bochner, Furnham, 2001)

Culture shock may not just occur when moving from one culture to another, but it can occur when people change. 

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